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Outreach chair Dorcas Beaton reflects on the inaugural meeting of Shining Waters Regional Council.

May the circle be unbroken.  

This year featured an intentional focus on circles and the indigenous peoples’ wisdom around them.  We started with the opening of the sacred fire.  A circle of stones around the fire with markers for the four directions, and a path to the east that was kept clear.  The fire was lit and constantly tended by indigenous fire keepers from the Toronto Urban Native Ministries.  They also taught us about the sacred fire and how to be around it.  Sunrise services of story-telling took place there where only the person with the stick or feather would speak - a very powerful exercise in listening.     

Assigned to our own “council circle” at round tables of eight, by meeting’s end we knew each other and would speak about issues quite freely. Yet we also realized how much listening was taking place. At certain points the tables were relabelled by discussion topics and you moved to a table/topic of interest.  Another time it was by geographic region.  Both facilitated discussion of a broad range of topics from poverty to church school curriculum to ecological justice, and provided a starting point for the networks and clusters across churches that we are hearing about in the new United Church of Canada structure.   

Circles were powerful, and as one way we can learn from our indigenous partners they have many effective layers. They are easily and naturally expanded to include more people/views/ideas without a hierarchy.  At the closing of the council all delegates formed a circle, a large circle - but a place where you could see everyone! Children, jubilands who had been ordained 65 years ago, new executive, new commissioners, and our brand new ordinands.  A powerful moment arose when the presider asked a group or a person to step inside and the whole circle offered a prayer and commitment to support them in their work.   

We were guided in some of the practices and principles of being in intentional circles (The Circle Way by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea):        

  • engaging authentically, recognizing the sacred that is within us,
  • honouring insights from an intuitive capacity,
  • making the group the priority so that you are present and listening,
  • using I/we rather than you, when speaking        
  • including a check-in time at the beginning of the gathering so that you can reconnect at a heart level

The circles supported the idea of collective wisdom and were a tool for seeing things in a new way.  All needed for change.  Through them, we can come to a meeting with open minds, open hearts and wills open to the presence of God rather than coming with judgement, fear and cynicism. 

In one session on circles, a quote came from a familiar voice to many of us:   

“My friends, love is better than anger.  Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair.  So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we will change the world.” 

- Jack Layton